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Letters on Political Strategy #3

This letter was written for Libertarians, but it applies with minor changes to all other third parties:

Strategic Planning is not a new idea. Successful businessmen have been doing strategic planning for millennia. 25 years ago, it was understandable that the newly-founded Libertarian Party would have done little in the way of strategic planning. It is now 2000, not 1972.

This letter presents an example of strategic planning and analysis. The analysis shows some of the things that we need to do for the future. The analysis also demonstrates what our national leadership should have been doing over the past half-decade to assist us in achieving the Libertarian future.

The strength of the Democratic-Republicans is based on a set of interlocking support structures, sometimes described as the “iron triangle”. Support structures are not the voter base itself. Support structures are the things that let the Democratic-Republicans capture and retain adequate voter bases. I’m going to call those structures “The Iron Pentagon”, but the need is the same. To compete with the Democratic-Republicans, to capture a voter base that will let us win major elections, we need the same interlocking institutions that the Democratic-Republicans presently have. What are the faces of “The Iron Pentagon”?

  • Money — PACs and fundraising supports
  • Ideas — Think Tanks and Special Interest Groups
  • Press — Friendly Media
  • People — Candidates and Incumbents
  • Patronage — Using Resources to Help your Friends

The book “Stand Up for Liberty” merged PACs and Special Interest Groups into one category. Special interest groups actually provide two very different types of support: financial, and intellectual/emotional. Here I treat these two sorts of support separately.

PACs AND FUNDRAISING: Money is the lifeblood of politics. The other national parties — besides their national committee and state committees — have a variety of Federal and state PACs to support their candidates. For example, the Democrats and Republicans each have House and Senate Campaign Committees. The corresponding Libertarian Congressional PAC was only formed in 1999. State after state has a long list of partisan PACs. Only in the past few years do we read of Libertarians forming PACs (under various names) at the state level.

Beyond overtly partisan PACs, each of the other major parties is supported by special interest groups speaking for specific issues and groups of people. Special interest groups do indeed respond to their constituencies, but many of them function primarily in the context of supporting one of the duopoly parties. The NRA and NARAL are not the National Republican Association and the National Anti-Republican Action League, but their entirely lawful activities tend to lean particular ways.

Democratic and Republican supporters of the 1st or 2nd amendments and other special interests can find special interest groups that speak for their causes while funding their Party. To be successful, the Libertarian party must create or capture corresponding special interest PACs that speak for causes while simultaneously aiding Libertarian candidates and state parties.

THINK TANKS AND SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS: To create a Libertarian future, we must be ready to govern when we win elections. We can mouth vague slogans that Democratic-Republican solutions are no good. Those slogans don’t replace detailed proposals for transitions and sound-bite-length defenses of our proposals. The press adopts one tone when quoting politicians, and a different tone when quoting spokesmen of think tanks. We need think tanks to supply quotable answers — and to be sure that reporters know which questions really count. A Libertarian victory will be built in part on a Libertarian spirit of the age, which requires that Libertarian ideas are seen to be coming from non-party institutions of Libertarian inclination, not just from the party headquarters.

Many Americans only care about a few political issues. A special interest group that talks about their topics, while giving answers with a Libertarian slant, can be the bridge that leads supporters of the duopoly party across to the Libertarian party. When we create Libertarian Think Tanks and Special Interest Groups, we will gain the benefits that follow from having them.

LIBERTARIAN MEDIA: Do we want editorial endorsements for our candidates? Do we want sympathetic (actually, do we want non-zero) coverage of our candidates and campaigns? Do we want the public to hear our think tanks giving Libertarian answers, someday even to Libertarian questions? Press outlets that are open to our directions will be significant for our success.

In the last century, many newspapers were funded by a particular Political Party or Faction. Today, many newspapers and television stations can be counted upon to support candidates of a particular bent. The Libertarian Party needs corresponding support of its activities and campaigns by sympathetic media outlets. To get sympathetic outlets, we need to create outlets or to convert existing outlets to our side. The Internet will pick up part of this burden, but print and broadcast media remain important. A young Libertarian who wishes to pursue an interesting career while at the same time building her party could do worse than to enter journalism.

CANDIDATES AND INCUMBENTS: Elected politicians are a source of strength. Incumbents may spend half of their politicking time doing fundraising, and they are far more effective than most non-incumbents. Incumbents are heard, simply because they are incumbents. When one of the duopoly Parties wants to recruit a candidate for U.S. Senate, they have the President of the United States or the Speaker of the House available making recruiting telephone calls. An elected official who is willing to work hard for her party as well as herself, by serving as a spokesman, by inciting activism, by recruiting candidates, and by raising money can make enormous contributions to her party’s progress.

Never forget: the core purpose of a political party is to elect candidates to office. That purpose requires finding candidates, electing them to office, and re-electing them at later dates. A substantial task for all Libertarians at every level of the party is to incite activists to run for office and to support their fellow Libertarians in running for office. In the end, putting the Libertarian agenda into effect requires winning elections.

PATRONAGE: The concept Libertarian Patronage will make many Libertarians uncomfortable. After all, if we are the party of rather little government, there will be rather little patronage to distribute. However, some patronage is honorary or constructive. Civilian decorations such as the National Medal of Freedom can go to people who have championed the Libertarian freedom ideal. Appointments to advisory panels can go to competent persons who happen to support the entire Bill of Rights and who favor market solutions to complex problems.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that we will instantly win a total victory. It is highly likely that to govern at all we will have to accept fractions of loaves at a time, rather than getting the entire bakery on the first day. For example, we Libertarians have the objective of getting the Federal government out of its practice of hiring schoolteachers and building academic administration buildings. While we are a Congressional minority, we will make some progress in this direction, but by agreeing to make less progress in our desired direction, we can bargain to make other changes.

Patronage? For example, we could insist in exchange for our votes, e.g., that educational research funds will be preferentially focused toward “individually-designed curricula recognizing the cultural unicity of every child”. In English translation, we could make sure that educational research money is spent in ways that benefit our home schooling constituents, as well as benefiting parents who think they can trust the government, rather than only being spent to benefit state schools. We always remember that our long term objective is to shrink government a great deal. However, when money would have been spent anyhow, patronage is arranging for that money to be spent in ways that benefits our side rather than their side.

I have now discussed the Iron Pentagon:
  • MONEY (PACs and fundraising supports),
  • IDEAS AND FRIENDS (Think Tanks and Special Interest Groups),
  • PRESS (Libertarian-Friendly Media),
  • PEOPLE (Candidates and Incumbents), and
  • PATRONAGE (Using Resources to Help Our Friends).

The above analysis is an example of strategic planning. I looked at the issues confronting us, and worked out a piece of what we need to do to build a strong future for the Libertarian Party. A capable leadership of our party would have done this sort of analysis years ago, would have presented its analysis and underlying rationale to our Party’s members as a strategic plan, and would have led by example in putting the Plan into effect.

The actions of the Libertarian National Committee are on the record. What have they been doing this past quarter century? Are they giving us the strategic planning that our party deserves and needs? Go to Look up the answer for yourself.